VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE

A must read, if you don't already know ...








Written by Funn Lim



"The first 10 episodes will forever have my affection and I shall remember them fondly and shall dare to proclaim them as the best DOMD adaptation for the earlier chapters but the rest of the series were either badly written, badly edited, badly acted, badly cast or simply just badly paced."










SPOILERS ... SPOILERS ... SPOILERS


Released in
2008

Languages
Mandarin, mostly dubbed with Chinese subtitles which explains why I seem like a blind bat in this review

No. of Episodes
50

Important Notice
Some clans' names I translated literally. I know Tin Dei Wui is technically Heaven and Earth Association but for the purposes of this review I have decided to be consistent with all my Duke Of Mount Deer reviews so they're Heaven And Earth Sect, aka HES. San Lung Gau is actually The Cult of God And Dragons but I suppose I shall call it Gods And Dragons Sect aka GADS. The Mus refers to the clan Mu Jianping and gang belongs to. The Wus is Wu Sangui, I think Lord of Ping Sai or whatever you call his position. The Zhengs are the Taiwan clan. The Qings is of course the Emperor's. I can't think of anyone or any other clan at this moment.

Cast-Characters
The only reason I am not categorising the characters to the clans they belong to is because most names I can't recognise which clan to which clan. Since I can't do it 100%, I might as well not do it. The most relevant names are the first 20 or so. Taken from Wikipedia.

Huang Xiao Ming as Wei Xiao Bao
Wang Cheng Yang as young Wei Xiao Bao
Ma Ling as Wei Chun Hua (Wei Xiao Bao's mother)
Wallace Chung as Kang Xi
Shi Lei as young Kang Xi
Tsui Kam Kong as Ao Bai
Hua Zi as Head Eunuch Hai (Hai Da Fu)
Li Cheng Ru as Xing Chi / Former Emperor Shun Zhi
He Zhuo Yan as Shuang Er
Shu Chang as Princess Jian Ning
Liu Zi as Fang Yi
Liu Yun as Mu Jian Ping
Cherrie Ying as A Ke
Hu Ke as Su Quan
Li Fei as Zeng Rou
Qiao Zhen Yu as Zheng Ke Shuang
TAE as Liu Yi Zhou
Wang Xiao Ming as Mu Jian Sheng
He Jia Yi as Jiu Nan
Gao Yuan as Empress Dowager and Mao Dong Zhu (Fake Empress Dowager)
Ning Jing as Chen Yuan Yuan
Zhong Liang as Wu Ying Xiong
Tu Men as Wu San Gui
Zhu Yan Ping as Chen Jin Nan
Zhao Xiao Rui as Mao Shi Ba
Chen Zhi Hui as Li Zi Cheng
Jing Gang Shan as Feng Ji Zhong
Tan Fei Ling as Suo E Tu
Yu Cheng Hui as Feng Xi Fan
Liu Xiao Hu as Zhang Kang Nian
Rocky Hou as Yang Yi Zhi
Li Ling as A Qi
Hu Dong as Duo Long
Xiao Xiang Yu as Gui Er Niang
Li Ze Feng as Gui Zhong
Shen Bao Ping as Gui Xin Shu
Xue Zhong Rui as Kang Qin Wang
Yang Nian Sheng as Xu Tian Chuan
Liu Nai Yi as Priest Xuan Zhen
Li Ming as Qian Lao Ben
Yan Guan Ying as Pang Tou Tuo
Qin Wei Dong as Shou Tou Tuo
Wang Jian Guo as Qi Qing Biao
Sang Wei Lin as Zhao Liang Dong
Huang Ge Xuan as Ge Er Dan
Zhang Heng Ping as Wu Gen Dao Ren
Yuan Yuan as Hong An Tong
Huang Su Ying as Li Chun Yuan Lao Bao
Duan Duan as Ao Biao
Tao Ji Xin as Liu Da Hong
Qiao Yu as Li Xi Hua
Zhou Gang as Xing Dian
Zhou Xiao Bin as Deng Bing Chun
Li Na as Liu Yan
Zhao Da as Wen You Dao
Zhao Jin Tao as Wen You Fang
Sun Li Hua as Rui Chu
Li Ai Qin as Yun Hui
Guo Xiao An as Deng Guan
Xing Han as Su Mei
Xi Xian Feng as Qing Long Shi
Wang Jing Luan as Tao Hua
Yang Lin as Yu Ba
Liu Guan Lin as Jing Ji
Zhang Chi as Huang Li Zhou
Su Mao as Lu Gao Xuan
Lu Shi Gang as Guan An Ji
Zhao Gang as Xia Guo Xiang
Hou Yue Qiu as Zhang Dan Yue
Zhao Yang as Wang Jin Bao
Ren Bao Cheng as Shi Lang
Chen Hai as Lin Xing Zhu
Zhang Gong as Hu Yi Zhi
Li Jun as Deng Guang
Ma Zi Jun as Hui Cong
Ren Wu as Fang Zheng of Qing Liang Temple
Zha Xi as Wu Zhi Rong
Su Yan as Xiao Gui Zi
Li Yuan as Peng Chun
Gao Fei as Young Mistress of Zhuang Villa
De Long as Gao Li Jin
Zhao Gui Xiang as Gu Yan Wu
Hu Qing Shi as Zha Ji Zuo
Chen Zhou as Lu Liu Liang
Wang Bing as Ba Yan
Dong Zhi Gang as Yu Lin
Liu Zi Yi as Jing Ji
Shen Tian as Xing Hua
Ye Jing as Huangfu Ge
Yuan Ming as Rui Dong
Zhang Kai as Wei Tong Chui
Li Chen as Wei Hu Tou
Jin Wen Ting as Wei Shuang Shuang
Ba Yu as Wu Li Sheng
Han Yue Qiao as Tao Hong Ying
Carrie as Sophia
Henry as Fei Yao Duo Luo

Summary
Basically it is the story of the meteoric rise of the illiterate and lowly Wei Xiaobao, son of a prostitute and father unknown who was kidnapped into the Palace when he was a young boy and became the young emperor's confidante as they battled forces after forces as the Emperor learns the ways of the world and the rule of governance. Along the way Wei Xiaobao met many colourful people who would have great influence in his life, mainly his much respected mentor, Chen Jinnan, the head of HES as well as many others and how he accumulated his wealth as he accumulated 7 wives and in the end how he chose between his loyalty to his Han heritage and his friendship with the emperor as both sides pressured Xiaobao to choose to either kill the emperor or kill the entire HES clan.

I suppose the story is so well known I really don't need to go into the story in whole. As this is adapted from the book of probably the same name by Jinyong, I supposed you can say the core of the story is the same but many elements may differ.

Before the review
I have never read the book. And I confess out of the famous 4 versions, I have seen 3. I am not going to include the Stephen Chow version since that is really not the book. I have not seen the most celebrated one, that is Andy Lau-Tony Leung version which I shall call TVB version. Dicky Cheung's version is 2000 version. Jordan Chan-Steven Ma is considered a remake of the TVB version but I will call it the 1998 version. This present version I may sometimes refer to it as 2008 version. I have written some differences between the 3 versions I have seen HERE. This review is not a comparison with all versions. I do believe of all 4 versions, the 2000 version is the least faithful. I will however make comparisons with the characterisations of a few main characters and the performances since these are basically similar in all versions. And if there is anything wrong with the story summary, please do excuse my mistake since Mandarin is not my strongest point and my worst enemy is China mandarin.

Comments
I can't quite believe in my lifetime itself and I am still relatively young, there are already 4 main versions of Duke Of Mount Deer or Royal Tramp, both referring to the same book by Jinyong. That is not even including any movie versions or other languages that I do not know of. 4 TV series version, all 4 above 20 episodes and I believe this version, 2008 version may be the longest with 50 episodes and even that my criticism is it is not properly or even fully told. Since all versions seem to feature the same characters and plots, this 2008 version may be faithful to the book but may have taken some liberties in editing out of pivotal scenes. From the first scene to the last, I kinda guessed the director is none other than the man responsible for Legend Of The Condor Heroes I think 2006, the one with the dashing Huang Xiaoming and the etherally beautiful Liu Yifei. The story may have bored or confused me but the cinematography with extensive use of lights, wind and water together with the beautifully choreographed fighting scenes impressed me so much, I was excited that for once these stories are remade with art in mind. Even if the story was confusing and large parts were either edited or changed, I felt the version was at least beautiful enough to distract me from the story and the problems in it. The same can be said about this series Royal Tramp. It is visually stunning and since I was informed by my friend Mary that they actually filmed the series in Forbidden Palace (and I hope she is right because oh look at the courtyard!) the entire effect was rich, big budgeted feel and in the end trump all versions by simply being quite accurate in the entire Forbidden City setup. Even in later scenes when all we see is the Emperor in his study room or in the main hall, it was scrumptious enough and so big and so golden that that scenes themselves could trump all versions. The costumes are beautiful, the girls' hair may be a bit lacking but the scenery, the amount of people carrying the sedan and the sheer vastness of the courtyard had me impressed till no end. Whilst the visuals will lull you into believing this version is the bestest of the best, sometimes you must look beyond visuals and look at the story. I call it story adaptation intergrity. How was the story? How was the performances? I am a firm believer that at the end of the day the visuals are there to accompany the story, to illustrate the story but not to take over it. I will state at this point that sometimes the visuals in this series does overtake the story and that is not good news.

Before I venture any further into this review, I must stress that I have never been more excited to write a review in recent times than I have had for this one. Because I believe that I know quite a lot about this story even if I hadn't read the book. I see enough similarities to draw a conclusion and also to compare and contrast. But since I am not doing that, I am excited simply because this is a series I can legitimately comment about without feeling I am not worthy to comment about it. I know the history, I love the core story of the friendship between these 2 men, the emperor and the scoundrel and in all versions that I have seen, even if the ending was reached differently, I always feel a certain pang of loss. I don't know why but I find this is perhaps Jinyong's best story and I am sure the fans disagree but I find nothing more satisfying than to watch a story of true friendship whatever the circumstances. I thought this story of these 2 men are fun, poignant, beautiful and in the end sad, so much so that I believe this may be the greatest love story that Jinyong did not specifically announce in public. There are no implication of homo-erotic love between these 2 men but their love for each other in today's world which is pure and simple friendship can be reinterpreted Brokeback Mountain style. Frankly though, sex only complicates matters and it is the pureness of the love and loyalty that these 2 men had for each other that always moved me till no end, in all version, in all adaptations and in all conclusions. So make it loud and clear; I love the story of Duke Of Mount Deer in all versions, however I might not love the direction, casting, performances, etc.

As in all other versions I have seen, my love for this version is predominantly the story of Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao, or specifically Xiao Xuanzhi and Xiao Kweizhi. But surprisingly I find myself emotionally drawn to other aspects as well, such as the relationship between Wei Xiaobao and his master, Chen Jinnan. The other relationships, especially with the wives did not move me even if I do like the wives, generally. I pity the director having to cast 7 women that will have people disagreeing but generally I like the wives even if I do not agree with the casting. I suppose you can say there are certain elements I like with each version that I hope to see combined but not for the next 10 years or so. I have had my fill of Duke of Mount Deer, thank you very much. However let's talk about the story first.

The story is confusing. It may be because of my lack of knowledge of the language as in China Mandarin but I have this sneaking suspect certain elements were either changed or is so faithful to the book that something is not quite right. Since faithfulness to a book is not the strongpoint of any adaptation in Chinese world, I could safely conclude there were some heavy editing involved.

For example, there was an appearance by a foreign girl in snow setting which culminated with WXB being hugged tightly against her ample chest. Then there was the scenes where WXB led the army against Russians, bombing them to oblivion. But I was wondering where is Sophia? I saw the cast list and her name was there and I would assume she's the girl with the ample chest. But what about her story? What about WXB making a deal with her, where she would become Queen and thus reaching a peace treaty between China and Russia? Because this plot is pivotal; it shows how influential and cunning WXB is and how dependent the emperor is on him even in foreign politics so to speak. I am sure I didn't see it. I remember seeing pictures of Russian soldiers in the snow somewhere but in this series, I didnt' see this scene.

Then there was how Shuang Er behaved. There was the rape scene of the 6 wives. I was shocked at how they all behaved, especially Shuang Er. Because before that everytime WXB tried to touch Shuang Er, she would run away, very shy, etc. Then after she woke up from the whole rape thing clad in her undergarments in a room full of women in undergarments and male soldiers, she seems rather non-plussed like it didn't matter. The scene after that WXB tried again to hold her and kiss her and she said "I know it would come to this one day" and looking rather shocked at his insistence on kissing her when seriously, the scene before this she was raped by him. I shall use the word rape since none of the women consented. So I was very confused with her behaviour and it struck me; maybe that scene was filmed before the rape scene, maybe the editing was a problem. Because frankly consistency is not the director's best asset in this series.

Take for example another wife, Ah Ke. In earlier scene he accidentally touched her breasts, she immediately took a sword and wanted to cut her own neck. After the rape, she wasn't as emotional although she did cry.

Then take the princess for example. One scene she said WXB kissed her, but I didn't see that. Then there was the plot where one scene the emperor wanted to marry her off to Wu Yingxiong because he found out she may be the illegitimate daughter of the fake empress and her love eventhough I must stress he didn't know she was a fake empress. All he knew was she was having an affair with someone and she was responsible for his mom's death. Next scene when it was found out she was actually a fake empress with the real empress hidden, suddenly the emperor seems warm and loving to the princess eventhough her paternity is still in doubt. I mean it was never answered; is she the daughter of the fake empress and her lover or not? It seems like maybe not.

What about the ridiculous scene of the real empress hidden behind a cupboard or under the bed dressed in full as the empress would have if she wasn't hidden? What about a secret chamber instead of a secret compartment? Wouldn't that be more logical? And why would the fake one dress the real one in head gear and make up and shoes and all? It just didn't make sense.

And the worst of all if I don't really like how the significance of the book of 42 scriptures and the location of the dragon's pulse of the dynasty was simply disregarded, never even got to see it. The sudden disappearance of many characters such as Jiunan the nun and the sudden appearance of many characters were just confusing. The story of how the wives were introduced get shorter and shorter as the number of wives got more and more that at the end of the day, it felt like a long line of buffet offerings. Like nah! Take this woman as a wife, nah here comes the 2nd one, oops, the 3rd one, etc. It was more like compartmentalised rather than serving the story as a whole. Some scene were too long winded, like that rape scene. It went on for a good part of an entire episode, as we hear monologues, how he held on to Ah Ke as her head went up and down way too long with her hair flowing freely as she was drugged. I thought that scene was tasteless, overdone and offensive to the core, that what he did was as if funny and right when it wasn't funny and very wrong even if he supposedly married her. In fact the scene where he supposedly married her was so longwinded and pointless that it detracted from the story which at that point was kinda lost to me.

Some scenes were too sentimental, like the scene where the Gui family died. I was surprised how shocked WXB looked since the Guis did killed a close friend of his earlier one and when WXB was like what? 9 or 10 in the earlier part of the series I didn't see him being so emotional when he was killing the real Xiao Kweizhi and countless of other people. In fact most of the killings were shown with some lighthearted soundtrack that I find was completely off track.

The reaction to some actions sometimes are just not consistent. As the series went on and on and on, the inconsistencies become more frequent. Either it is the character's inconsistencies or scene inconsistencies, like one angle the robe is on the shoulder, next angle in the same scene the robe is off the shoulder. And some inconsistencies come from the execution of the plot, like how easy it was for the assassins to fly in and out of the palace, that it is a wonder the emperor is not dead yet. But because the visuals were so good, I didn't quite take notice on all that.

If I were to watch these later episodes first, I would have given up on watching this series. The idea of at least 2 episodes per wife was totally boring. The idea that all women except for Ah Ke and Fang Yi seems to fall and flirt with him at first glance was too easy for this man. The fact that he was an eunuch was of not much significance and I feel the revelation that he is NOT a eunuch to his wives and fellow colleagues was lost. Not even a shock or a whisper and it just seems so easy, not much scandal. Even the emperor did not bat an eyelid when he found out he was not an eunuch when I think before or even after WXB spent a significant amount of time alone with the princess. All these issues were not addressed in this version when they were addressed in the 1998 version which makes 1998 version a more rounded one. Further there were many scenes in this version which shows how sadistic the princess was, that eventhough I thought they were ok but since he wasn't an eunuch anymore, made those scenes illogical and inappropriate because how best a friend he may be with the emperor, there is still a fine line between a man and a woman in those days, especially when that woman is a princess. Protocol still is important even if it is a comedy.

I was also very surprised with the sudden introduction of the princess. Since she is not much younger than the emperor, it would have been great to introduce her as a young bratty girl that young WXB would meet because when she suddenly burst into the study room and WXB looked shock at seeing her, it was as if before that she had never appeared in his study room before. No one would just burst in with such familiarity without having been there before so I find that again inconsistent.

This series is full of melodramatic or really can't quite place it there moments. For example, WXB was on the boat with 2 other HES men when from afar in the rain he saw Chen Jinnan on a horse, very heroic looking moment. But that was like out of nowhere. We hear WXB narrating that "And in my imagination I see my father, my father a hero gallantly on a horse, a man respected by all, a man of integrity" and cut to Chen Jinnan in the rain. Nice scene but where did that come from? Then there was the last or almost last scene with WXB screaming XIAO XUANZHI!! XIAO XUANZHI!!! again and again which is kinda overmelodramatic. In fact I want to talk more about this last scene.

Throughout this series WXB has never screamed nor scolded the emperor. Never raised his voice and was always respectful even if he treated the emperor like his best friend, there was always a line he never crossed. Unlike some scenes I saw in the original DOMD version where Tony Leung slapped Andy Lau when they insulted each other's mothers and he even screamed the emperor was useless emperor, we never see such drama in this version. In fact all other versions never quite had that intensity that the original had and I am glad they were the way they were because whilst WXB may be true to character to slap the emperor since they're friends first and foremost, this version illustrates that they're first and foremost master and servant, the friends part was just a bonus. This WXB knows his position in the order of things and is one aspect of this WXB that I like. And I understand why the final scene between them two is filmed with them apart. WXB just ran away and he was alone on the boat and he was drinking to his sorrow, screaming "I am no longer Xiao Kweizhi! I will no longer be that Xiao Kweizhi. I don't need you anymore! From this moment on, you're on your own!!" whilst the emperor alone sitting on his golden throne angrily said "The moment you knew I was the emperor Xiao Xuanzhi is dead. Your presence has been a noisy one, with your absens I would finally have some peace and quietness and maybe that is for the best. You can run Xiao Kweizhi, I don't need you anymore. Xiao Xuanzhi doesn't need Xiao Kweizhi anymore!!" and we see as if they could hear each other as WXB angrily said "No, you need me! We are friends! I have been loyal to you, I have never betrayed you!" and it went on until the emperor decided life without WXB will be ok even when he looked near tears and angry when he said that which means whatever he said was not true and it ended with WXB angrily dismissing the emperor from his thoughts as he laments the end of his friendship and yet he screamed into the silent night "Xiao Xuanzhi!! Xiao Xuanzhi!!! Xiao Xuanzhi!!!" as he cried and fell down in a drunken stupor. Which means whatever he said was not true either. It was long but nice exchange which would have been much better if they were face to face. I never did get the chance to see these two speak the words they want to say face to face. The emperor no doubt was angry with WXB for leaving him and WXB was angry that the emperor doubted his loyalty. Both were exchanging angry words against one another, which in the original DOMD they exchanged in each other's face but this one was miles apart. I was hoping they would meet each other and just scream their hearts out face to face which would have made the scene strange but more effective. I don't really remember DOMD 1998 had the same scene also since that WXB is quite close to this WXB but DOMD 2000 had that scene but less intense than the original if I remember correctly. Frankly I didn't like how it ended. DOMD 2000 ended with WXB saying what he needed to say in defense of the emperor and walked away as the emperor looked on. That showed even until the end he was on the emperor's side. DOMD 1998 ended with the emperor looking for WXB in crowd and WXB walking towards the emperor when he knew his best friend missed him but he was stopped by his wife because it was far better to leave it as that than to go back to the emperor because at that point, like in this version WXB could no longer be loyal to both, so he rather not be loyal to anyone so that he wouldn't need to betray either side. This version was simply weird the way it ended. It ended angrily, without love, without friendship. It was depressing. Even if the narrator ended the story by saying the emperor did try to find WXB as he missed him, but WXB could not be found. Maybe WXB was somewhere near, maybe he was afar but the ending was like the end of the friendship which I find very depressing. It was like WXB truly didn't care about Xiao Xuanzhi anymore. I like the other versions' endings better because there was a hint even if they don't see each other again, the friendship is still intact. I find especially poignant is the ending for 1998 version because even at the end, they're best friends forever. So frankly I find the ending for this version strange, inadequate and unfulfilling. I just wonder if there was ever any new version, perhaps it would be a nice touch to show that these two men meet again after decades apart, when both are old men. That would have worked and it would have been a happy ending of some sort that despite everything at the end of their lives they meet as friends again.

That being said, before you dismiss this version as inadequate in whole, let me say that the 1st 10 episodes of this series could easily win over all previous versions. It was to me a gamble. When I saw how the story began with a very young WXB as in 10 years old and meeting a 10 year old Kangxi I was shocked because this WXB even at that age can kill without remorse. I thought that was wrong, how can they begin the series like this? But guess what? It worked, big time. The fact that they found 2 fantastic young actors who can act better than the adult counterparts and both boys were cute and endearing were the reason why it worked. All those stories about how they defeated Aobai, how this young WXB did thing for the young emperor and all just made the ending even more sadder. They started so young, were friends for so many years that I simply hated the ending the way it was. These two boys had chemistry and I loved the way how they run around the palace, climbed to the top, how they shared food, how the emperor insisted WXB called him Xiao Xuanzhi, all these were foundations of the friendship and despite WXB and Kangxi stabbing Aobai and all since they're children and those scenes are violent, I loved the 1st 10 episodes. I find these boys could handle such adult scenes and they could portray the innocence of the friendship and complications of the position of the young emperor so well, I was hoping they would just be in the series all 50 episodes! For this reason alone, this series taking such a bold move really trump over other versions. And the 1st 10 episodes were the most consistent. Somehow when WXB grew up, the magic was lost.

That being said, there are many elements I like about this version but could have been better.

Take for instance the portrayal of WXB himself. In all 3 versions I have seen, consistently WXB is a man who can talk himself into and out of trouble. He is cunning and streetsmart and he has the mouth that can sweet talk anyone and this was since he was a child. From the young WXB to the adult WXB, I really like the characterisation of this character. I like the fact that he knows his position. He always is respectful to the emperor in public although he jokes around with the emperor in private. He is always ready to please the emperor and never stepped out of his boundary since he knew even if he was best friends with the emperor, the emperor is still the emperor and his life is at the emperor's whim and fancy. I have no doubt he never doubted the emperor would chop off his head but at the back of his mind he did wonder what if one day the emperor doesn't love him as much as he did before? But this WXB remain steadfastly loyal to the emperor, since he loves the emperor as a friend and he really thinks the emperor is a good man, a good ruler. When Kangxi angrily said "Why they all want me dead? Have I not treated the Hans as I would my people? I gave the Hans the same privileges as any other, I am a fair and just ruler, so why do they still want me dead?" and WXB can only say "Because everyone wants to be an emperor". WXB is the emperor's confidante, the emperor trusts this man enough to send him on difficult missions, to the point Kangxi thoughtfully said "I don't think I would ever send you on another dangerous mission anymore. Everytime I thought about you in danger I feel uneasy". But this WXB would do anything for the emperor, except betraying HES. He talks loyalty to HES, he talks friendship with the emperor even when the emperor reminded him his feet can't stand on 2 ships at one time but WXB refused to budge. Even when HES planned to assassinate the emperor, he tried all ways to inform the emperor, and his master Chen Jinnan knows I think because he looks at him funnily. He was always in a precarious situation but he manages to thread between two extremes until the emperor made him choose and he knew he had to leave because he for once couldn't do what the emperor asked him to do. One of my most favourite scene had WXB contemplating whether to tell the emperor he is not the real Xiao Kweizhi after the emperor seems very concerned about his welfare. I am duplicating the episodic thought I wrote on this scene for your reading pleasure. Kinda long.

The Emperor said "Wait for a moment" and he took a special box, opened it and inside were I think western cookies that only the Emperor had the privilege to taste. The Emperor offered them to WXB and said "I am sorry you had to run everywhere today. You must be exhausted. Have a piece" and WXB looked at the Emperor his eyes brimming with tears and thought to himself "I have not been truthful with you, how can you treat me so well when I had lied to you all these years?" and the Emperor thought he wanted to wrestle and so he said "Ok, like old times? Come, I am ready. Let's wrestle!" and the Emperor readied himself and WXB walked foward and said "Are you Xiao Xuan Tzi now?" and the Emperor said "Didn't I tell you when we are alone I am Xiao Xuan Tzi?" and WXB said carefully "Because there are somethings that if I had told the emperor he would not forgive me so easily but if I were to tell Xiao Xuan Tzi, as a friend he may be more willing to forgive me. Should I tell you, are you now the Emperor or are you now Xiao Xuan Tzi?" and the emperor was confused when suddenly WXB kneel down and confessed...

I was actrually hoping for more confrontational scenes between these 2 and I don't know why but the director seems to resist that idea so basically there isn't much drama between these two except for one serious and probably only confrontation where the Emperor was angry and Xiaobao was scared because he didn't know what to do. That was the scene where the emperor got news that "the traitor lives in the Wei mansion" and he knew Wei Xiaobao is HES member. He even got the names and all and the emperor tricked WXB by uttering some coded message that only HES members know and WXB stupidly said "I didn't know you are a member of HES too!" and then he realised he was tricked and it was too late. He immediately kneel down and apologised and the emperor was angry enough to kick WXB. But that was the extent of any confrontation. No angry words from WXB who in fact kept thinking "How did he know? He knows a lot. What should I do?". No slap on the emperor's face, no screaming "I am loyal to you!!!!" but rather in calm but desperate voice he said "I am loyal to you, I always have" and the emperor feeling disgusted that WXB was working for both sides would be the one doing the shouting "Is that how you are loyal to me?". I want a bit more emotional outbursts between the two but most of the time the outbursts are subtle. One other scene that would have made a great confrontational scene but didn't material that way was almost towards the end the emperor knew about the presence of Mao 18 in the palace and WXB begged the emperor to let Mao 18 go as "He was the one who took me here to the palace, without him your majesty would never have met your humble servant, please spare his life". Yes at this point the divide between WXB and Kangxi became very apparent as no longer is WXB referring to himself as Xiao Kweizhi and the emperor has in fact stopped referring himself as Xiao Xuanzhi. After all there was a separation of I think 7 or 9 years between the last encounter and this. The emperor looked at him angrily and said "I will let you choose. Either your head or his. Go back and think about it and then you tell me; your head or his!". Of course WXB won't give his own head and he won't have Mao 18 killed so he got someone else to take Mao 18's place. And guess what? The emperor knows. One of the more poignant scenes was when it was the last time the both of them would see each other. WXB knew he could no longer stay in the palace and serve Kangxi because Kangxi has become incresingly insistent that WXB cut off all ties with HES by destroying them. Kangxi was having a good day and he permitted WXB to leave the palace with his 7 wives and children to visit his mom and to bestow on her a title as "I should have done this a long time ago for all the contributions you made to this empire". If I remember correctly WXB was quiet and thankful and suddenly he kneels down and gave the emperor 3 very sincere kow tows and the emperor was amused and asked "What is wrong?" and he said "I wish to give you my respect" and the emperor teased "So all those kow tows were not sincere?" and WXB said "Maybe not but this one is" and at the last kow tow his head touching the floor and he didn't raise his head. He remained there and he started to cry and he thought "Xiao Xuanzhi, you will never know but this will be the last time we meet. I will have to leave, take good care of yourself" and the emperor looked at him curiously and said "Are you crying?" and of course WXB denied it and in slow mo left as the emperor looked on. Only later that night the emperor realised the significance of WXB's actions and it was too late. That was when there was the angry exchange between the 2 but miles apart which I thought would have been better if they were face to face.


I liked these scenes, that are almost intimate in every way without being overbearing. I may keep repeating I want the whole thing to be confrontational and all because I believe fans of all other versions and the book may wish for it that way because it is more dramatic, this version gives a more melodramatic twist to the story of these 2 great men. Everytime they're together there is a certain pang of sadness since I know the inevitable.


As I have said it becomes even more emotional or touching or even poignant because the story started with 2 kids and not 2 adults. The amount of time they were together justifies the emotional turmoil, anger, pain, sadness, everything that these 2 men went through from worries to separation to reunion to the final separation. The story is designed to be emotional more so when the narrator began and ended the series with the story that the emperor went in search of WXB over the years but never found him. Worse is of course the last encounter between them 2, even if miles apart were one of anger and feelings of betrayal. The emperor knows WXB will never betray him and WXB knows the emperor would forgive him for any wrong he had done but yet they're angry with each other because WXB felt the emperor was needlessly pushing him to choose when he is loyal to him whilst the emperor was angry because WXB refused to choose and ran away. It is like 2 best friends having a fight and being very angry with one another.


The Emperor, Kangxi is another fascinating character in this story, not necessarily in this series. Whist WXB is without a doubt the lead, I always liked Kangxi's story more. Because this series started them as children, I could emphatise with him more. If you don't already know, Kangxi had a lonely childhood. Bullied by the elders, running the country and being a young inexperienced ruler that is often kow-towed but never had anyone tell him honestly the thing is what it is, meeting WXB is perhaps his happiest moment. Having a fun loving crazy lawless friend like the cunning WXB, he found someone he could trust. I always thought the emperor's early years, in this series his childhood was the happiest not because he was young and carefree, but because of WXB he experienced the carefree years, and for those times they roamed around the palace, playing, throwing mud at each other, viewing the palace from the rooftop, stealing food, fighting, the emperor received his greatest gift; to be simply a child. WXB received from the emperor the respect he never had. After all WXB was a prostitute's son, in the early scene he may be cocky and loud, but notice how the other children taunts him. He never quite care for the taunts, he has thick skin but somehow you feel growing up amongst women in a brothel must have been very lonely and degrading for him. No one took notice of him except his mom, no one cared about his welfare, no one bothered to even ask him how was his day. He learned to grow up fast by being cunning, ruthless and in some ways selfish. But deep down however a scroundrel he may have been, he yearned to be a hero but he did it the wrong way by killing people without remorse. He learned about heroism and the bigger picture through his master, Chen Jinnan and the various people he met. I have always said in all my DOMD reviews he does not feel loyalty to the Ming overthrowing the Ching movement. He couldn't care less. But he cares about the people in HES because they cared about him, they made him feel useful and important and because his master Chen Jinnan treated him affectionately like a son even if they rarely meet. Adults who have met him (since he was only 17 when the story proper started) grew to like him for his honesty and loyalty and Chen Jinnan and even sour faced nun, Jiunan liked him. Maybe he may have misused his position as the deputy of HES to garner that trust and respect but he did earned it by repeatedly saving their skins at his own expense. But he did the saving with confidence and a certain arrogance that he can outsmart everyone, even the emperor but little did he know the emperor knows about most things but rarely voiced it out. WXB is the kinda guy who voices out everything and the emperor learned to keep it all to himself and unleash it later.


In the emperor, WXB too found respect. To have a young friend who turned out to be the young emperor who treated him as equal, the loyalty towards the emperor was sealed. WXB promised himself however he lied to the emperor or cheated his way around, he would never do anything to harm the emperor and the empire. Which was why he kept the secret of the book of 42 scriptures a secret. This show he places the emperor above all else. He will do anything for the emperor as he kept telling Kangxi "What worries you Xioa Xuanzhi? No worries, send me to solve your problems!" which is equally appreciated by the young emperor. Whilst WXB has tremendous capacity for love as shown in his quest for 7 wives, half of them followed him willingly rather than him pursuing them, the emperor at times show a capacity to hate. Witness his outburst when he found a dead man in the empress dowager's room, when he found out she may have killed his mother and forced his father into abdicating, what he planned to do to the princess when he suspected she was the daughter of the empress dowager whom he hated, so much so WXB thought to himself "Xiao Xuanzhi can be ruthless", much to the surprise of WXB. The outburst is even more evident when he told WXB "I beheaded Wu Yingxiong! Those old fools advised me not to stir things up but I showed them I have nothing to fear!" and that kinda shocked WXB a little. Because in WXB's mind he was always that young boy he met, scared, afraid, lonely, inexperience and suddenly here he was, making big decisions. But I was not surprised by his outbursts since I saw some of that when Aobai crossed the line by being very disrespectful and the emperor himself concocted the entire plan to be rid of Aobai when he was only what? 12? It is just that WXB kept the emperor's innocence and purity but at some point both will have to grow up.


The emperor truly appreciated WXB's contributions, although some scenes he seems to be using WXB's affection for him to steer WXB to do his bidding. He can be quite devious. But overall in all versions I have seen, especially this and 1998 version, the emperor is portrayed as someone who doens't kill easily, can be persuaded, is reasonable and is willing to listen. He is not a tyrant and he is just and fair. WXB wouldn't pledge his loyalty to him if he doesn't think the emperor is worth serving. WXB is loyal but he is not blindly loyal like Chen Jinnan, which I shall explain later.


What I love about the 1998 version was this one scene where WXB being his silly playful self was walking away from the emperor's study room when he turned back and saw the young emperor at his desk busy working and the door slowly closing and he thought to himself "Xiao Xuanzhi has indeed grown up". That moment of realisation that the emperor was no longer a boy saddened WXB because he knew there would be a gap between them and when Xiao Xuanzhi is now the emperor, he can no longer be as close to him as he once was because there is a great divide between a servant and his master even if they call themselves friends.


This aspect of master and servant is very clear in this version. WXB has never forgotten however friendly the emperor may be with him, he holds the power to chop off his head if he is displeased, that he would have to kneel before him. The funny thing is WXB willingly do all that because he views this man of power as his best friend. Some place in his heart tells him no matter what wrong has been perpetrated, his head will be safe. He is right, because during the 1st time WXB ran away to the island with his 7 wives where he spent many years there, the emperor may have threatened to cut off his head and stationed troops on that island, at the end of the day the emperor didn't do anything he threatened to do. Instead he angrily said "Fine! Let him stay there and fish!" which WXB did, much to his boredom. Time and time again the emperor sent his men to give him titles and ask him or rather order him to come home but he must help destroy HES and it is a testament to how much WXB knows the emperor's ways by simply saying no each time. Then the emperor wrote a personal letter accompanied by pictures, and it was read to him where the emperor wrote informally, scolding WXB "You bastard fool! Where have you been? Why are you not coming back to me? I missed you you bastard!", that sort of language and WXB was moved to tears. It was those informal words that reminded him of the fun they had. So in the end he went back, partly also because he couldn't take the boredom anymore. But he went back knowing at some point the emperor will ask him to show his loyalty by destroying HES which WXB angrily thought in the end he was loyal but why must he show his loyalty by killing his other friends? He couldn't do that. He couldn't be a traitor he said. What he didn't know is how much the emperor knew about everything, like the protective golden chain he took from Aobai when he was just a boy and has been wearing it since. He wanted to give it to the emperor to wear when the emperor said "You mean that chain from Aobai? I knew Aobai took it many years before for his own use and when I didn't see it on the list of the things confiscated, I knew someone took it. I don't need it. I appreciate your thoughts for my safety and I am touched by it. But I don't need it. I give it to you in recognition of your deeds" and that took WXB by surprised since he didn't know the emperor knew so much for so long. But the emperor didn't know how much money he took though.


And that differs from the 1998 version in one aspect that I liked. In the 1998 version the emperor even knows he took money, as in the tradition of all things confiscated, at least a few percentage is taken by the ministers. The emperor in that version closed one eye as long as the money taken isn't over the top so he lef it be. This is not seen in this new version which makes me wonder will the emperor blow his top if he knew WXB had so much money? I also remember a scene which I can't quite recall which version where the emperor did not agree with his father that they should return where they come from if the people wants them to leave but in this version the father said the same thing but the significance of what he said was never emphasised so the whole point wasn't even raised.


I also liked one aspect of this version; most versions the emperor is young and inexperience and sometimes gullible and naive. WXB is the streetsmart cunning one. But this version, however cunning WXB may be, somethings he can't quite figure out, and it was the Emperor who figured out the significance of certain actions. The emperor is not really naive and gullible, he is just not that streetsmart but once he is explained the scenario, he sees things that WXB may fail to see.


Overall I enjoyed this version and all versions the most simply because of the story of these two best friends. Each version has its different take, different approach. In some clips I saw the original version is more modern lingo, felt like 2 best friends fighting. In 2000 version, it was more dramatic as the emperor actually ordered WXB to be beheaded, WXB held the emperor by knife point, the princess dying. They reconciled these two feuding friends by having WXB defend the emperor from the assasination attempt by the nun Jiunan. I remember that scene well because even till the end WXB was on the emperor's side and the emperor forgave him for whatever wrong he think WXB did because WXB said from his heart that he truly believed the emperor, his best friend is a good man and a good ruler. Jiunan knew he was right and she left. The parting scene was on a happier note as each parted as friends. In 1998 version, the ending which I think I described somewhere above is sadder as WXB knew he could only keep the friendship alive by leaving the emperor. Their last encounter was an angry one, because the emperor thought WXB with his HES men were trying to destroy the dragon pulse of the empire (the location of the treasure found in the book of 42 scriptures) and they fought and WXB exchanged angry words with the emperor but even till the end as the cave or whatever was falling down burying them and the emperor knocked unconcious, WXB took off his golden chain vest and put it on the emperor disregarding his own safety and carried the emperor to safety. The emperor in the end personally went in search of him so the ending was to me sadder. Not sure about the original version but version 2008 is perhaps the saddest ending as each parted ways after huge misunderstanding and ended up scolding each other miles apart although maybe they couldn't bring themselves to scold each other face to face.


It is always the end of the friendship that moves me to tears. Even if this version kinda stretched that ending bit too much, I still like it even if it is a bit melodramatic.


Three aspects worth mentioning are the relationship between HES and WXB, the emperor and the fake empress dowager and WXB and Hai Dafu.


Frankly I can't remember much about the 2000 version. I can only remember the ridiculous twist where WXB became a great kung fu master. Stupid. Luckily not for this version. Anyway the relationship between HES and WXB has been pretty constant in all versions I have seen. HES are good men, and very naive and too heroic that they often makes mistakes. They easily trust in WXB but then WXB did things that earned their trust even more later on. But constantly I find HES members sometimes rather foolish. Like in this version they recommended WXB to be emperor! WXB was like "No! No! I can't be! Imagine having to worry about the uprising in Taiwan, next second the flood of the river, the rebels, oh I can't be the emperor. I'd rather be happy and carefree! I wouldn't want to be in the emperor's position!" I think the same foolishness can be seen in all other versions. Sometimes their mission to overthrow the Qing, restore the Ming seems rather desperate. They just want a Han as an emperor, discounting the fact that this present emperor is a good ruler. Chen Jinnan the leader is portrayed as someone righteous and heroic. I don't know why but I feel only in this version amongst all versions I have seen does the actor chosen did justice to this character. Much older and looking much heroic, I love his interaction with WXB, the way he affectionately touched his bald head like a father would to a son even at his dying moments. You can understand why this WXB respects this man and wishes he is his unknown father. When he was young he told the young emperor "I don't know who my father is but I am told he is a heroic, brave and respectful man, respected by others" and he does imagine Chen Jinnan as his father. Truth is I doubt Chen Jinnan would go to a brothel. The scene where Chen Jinnan was cowardly stabbed by the coward Zheng Keshuang was really one of the saddest moments in this series. It also shows Chen Jinnan's foolishness, something WXB isn't guilty of. Chen Jinnan and fellow HES members are sometimes too honourable, which is why they can never succeed in pushing back the Qings. Even when Zheng Keshuang, coward of all cowards tried to kill him once before and now succeeding the 2nd time, Chen Jinnan's dying wish to WXB was to let Zheng Keshuang go because Chen Jinnan served that coward's father and he owed him his life or something. Reluctantly WXB agreed. This is the difference between WXB and Chen Jinnan. WXB does not believe in blind loyalty like his master. WXB serves the emperor loyally because he truly believes in the emperor and he serves HES because he believes in HES. He never double cross these two fractions, not like he did to the GADS. It is a question whether your master is worth serving or not and Chen Jinnan couldn't see that. Foolish in my opinion. No one should be blindly loyal.


2nd thing worth mentioning is the relationshop between fake empress dowager and Emperor. In here the emperor ordered the fake empress dowager to be caught. When she was carried to face the emperor, she looked at him with tears and said "Your majesty must remember not to overtire yourself. Remember to drink the soup you have always been drinking. Remember to take care of your health" and the emperor couldn't look at her anymore and ordered her to be taken to the real empress dowager as she screamed "Kill me your majesty! Kill me! Kill me!". Now you may wonder why would the emperor look at her with tears brimming in his eyes? You must remember for a better part of his life, he was brought up by this woman. She taught him kung fu, took care of his welfare. In a way she didn't do any harm to him and she did raise her well even if she was fake. So the attachment is there. However this version did not elaborate on that which makes the emperor seems a bit heartless. Forget about the 2000 version where WXb even bedded the fake empress dowager! In the 1998 version which portrayed this relationship nicely and if I remembered correctly, she and her lover were ambushed by the incoming assassins. The emperor saw her lifeless body and he felt a pang of sadness because like I said she raised him and he acknowledged that. It would have been great if this small scene was included in this new version which would give the emperor a more human face from other point of view rather than just WXB's.


3rd aspect definitely worth mentioning is Hai Dafu and WXB. In all versions we see a coughing eunuch who is both scary and sometimes funny. In 1998 version much was spoiled by the actor's lack of the Cantonese language but it was a good characterisation. In 2000 version it became dramatic and silly to the core to have WXB screaming and crying and calling the dying Hai Dafu "Father!!! Father!!! Father!!!". I was never under the impression they were that close. In this version, first of all I was shocked by his sudden death. I thought he would become crazy and all but he really dropped dead. The end! But those little time he had, this Hai Dafu to me is the best of all versions. Really scary and intimidating even when he was blind, poor WXB was often held by his throat by this eunuch. This Hai Dafu would cradle him like a baby and at the same time strangle him. WXB returned the favour with hate gestures which is really very funny in a morbid sort of way. Hai Dafu doesn't like this WXB but sometimes he does smile at his antics. This WXB does hold onto this Hai Dafu and called him his master. A very strange relationship. But make no mistakes; WXB never felt love or loyalty to this eunuch and when he died WXB felt nothing as is rightly so. Not like that silly 2000 version.

As for the wives, same old for all versions except in 2000 version, 2 dead wives and a change in one wife. I really don't have much to say about the wives. I find Fang Yi ok, but towards the end bland. Shuang Er is cute but in the end ineffective. My idea of Shuang Er comes from the 1998 version where everytime WXB faces danger, he would stand behind the faithful and skilled Shuang Er. In this version same also but somehow this Shuang Er, very cute, young and lovely doesn't stand out as much as she should have. Other than Shuang Er, the more memorable one is the princess. So she is a caricature, she doesn't do much due to lack of screentime but I find her pretty and looking like a princess even of her dress is nice but ridiculous. Her torture scenes were scary and really sadistic woman but it fits. I mean she is believable as someone so unpredictable, so scary and one who would point a gun at Wu Yingxiong and shoot him at his private parts. Totally believable. 1998 version has one scary princess but this version really went all out and interestingly, I enjoyed her scenes with WXB even if I may wince. 2000 version has a princess that one wonders why WXB could not really fall head over heels for, since she is cute but in all honesty, that may be the least convincing potrayal of the pampered princess. This version, the princess is pampered AND sadistic. A scary combination and yet she would be the first to save her WXB. So love conquers all I suppose.


Ah Ke was also memorable for a different reason which I shall explain later. The portrayal is consistent, she hated him and in the end learned to love him. The wife of the GADS chief is lovely also but weird how fast she fell for WXB. It just felt like the women just followed him unconditionally. The rest of the wives are forgettable.


In fact consistently in all versions I never quite like the wives but one aspect I do like about 2000 version is the bickering aspects. In that version you see the wives fighting, courtesy of Fang Yi and the princess. I like the way they bicker because no 7 wives can get along so well so soon and so fast, like this version or 1998 version.


There are however plenty of aspects that this version failed miserably.


For one, Aobai. The same actor as in 2000 version was used, only here he looks more normal and quite intimidating. But there were too few scenes of him being intimidating. Since the director has 50 episodes to spare, can't he have told the Aobai story better? Spend a bit more time with Aobai and his backstory? Here Aobai is arrogant and egoistical and even the young emperor is scared of him. But I suspect when WXB was carried away after wandering into the great hall by mistake and where he found out Xiao Xuanzhi is the emperor, Aobai shouted "Kill him!" and the emperor "STOP!!!" and he wiped his tears. We don't know what happened next but I suspect the emperor had a few heated exchange with Aobai to save WXB's life. Why wasn't this shown? It would have been more dramatic. Why melodrama is better than drama? I just feel Aobai's story was inadequately told and before they even started, Aobai was captured. It seems like he was just a walk on role rather than a significant story which I feel he is.


Then there was Wu Sangui, a man that every Han wants to kill. In fact he is so hated, the HES members would rather kill him first than the emperor. The emperor would be 2nd of course. I was so looking forward to this character since we often heard about him but never seen. We see his son Wu Yingxiong so when he finally appeared, I thought that man is cunning and devious and before I can savour this character, it was all over. Wu Sangui waged war and then he was out of sight for the rest of the series. What happened to him? Not shown. Somehow again he felt like a passing by character when his story has great significance in the story of WXB and the emperor. The emperor sees him as a threat and has been worried about him for years. Even the story of Chan Yuen Yuen was touch and go. A better and more fulfilling version is if I remember correctly was the 2000 version I think where it gives Wu Sangui a more human face by showing how much he loves his son Wu Yingxiong. Of course he is a traitor but he does love his son very much. I think even 1998 version was better than this version and considering this one had 50 episodes, I think in this aspect the director and writer failed miserably.


The impact of the story of Chan Yuen Yuen was also lost in this version unlike version 1998 because it was this revelation that turned Ah Ke around. Ah Ke was often quite arrogant in my opinion but knowing where she came from and how she was used by even her own master, betrayed by her own boyfriend and raped by WXB kinda pushed her over the edge, making her the most pitiful character in the story. That significance is lost in this version which dedicated 1 whole episode to the rape scene but less than half to Ah Ke's reaction to the sinful revelation.


Then there was the disappearing kung fu from the wives. They all, except for the princess can fight decently, but somewhere towards the end when the husband was busy fighting someone, they all just stood there like a statue. They needed to be saved when they could fight so why play damsel in distress?


The ending in some ways failed in my opinion by being so depressing. It was only after rewatching the first few episodes did I realise the first scene and the last scene was the same! How lazy can the director be? I suspect after 40 episodes he was exhausted. You can see in the direction. Earlier on there was great shots of the palace, the sky, the rooftop, the ambience and even the music was suitable but after 40 episodes or so, the outdoor shots become less and less and mostly confined to room and the music were rather embarassingly unsuitable, like cute music for dramatic scenes. Somehow from lighthearted to dramatic to melodramatic, the quality was slipping slowly. But none was worse than the middle episodes where the wives were introduced one by one. I was bored to tears since he didn't make much effort to woo the wives.


In fact there is a debate raging on, who WXB love most? Without a doubt, my answer would be the emperor. He places him above all else, whenever there was danger, usually he would stand behind one of the wives but everytime the emperor was in danger, WXB would stand in front of the emperor. Action speaks louder than words. But if you question is among the 7 wives, who he loves most? Everybody seems to agree on Shuang Er. No doubt he loves the princess the least, in one scene where after she gave birth she closed her eyes for a moment and he thought she was dead and he panicked and said "Don't die! Princess! Don't die! How am I going to explain to your brother?!". But I don't agree he loves Shuang Er the most. He likes her the most, appreciates her the most because she is the most obedient. But I always believe he loves Ah Ke the most because


1. she is prettiest


2. she is the one he put up the most effort in wooing


3. whenever she asks for help he never refuses, feeling used sometimes


So my answer is Ah Ke, second Shuang Er. The rest almost equally.


Then there was the editing which was the worst as I have explained above. The problem is with consistency and in the end it is the editing that killed this series in later parts.


Whilst the story may fail to impress sometimes and the editing awful, the cinematography earlier on will surely impress. The scene where young WXB jumped from boat to boat, the rooftop scenes, the scene where the young emperor is carried from one place to the other by a whole lot of people, the food on the table, the great hall with its gleaming shiny marble floors, the sinister atmosphere of Hai Dafu's living quarters, the high ceilings, the costumes especially worn by the young emperor, etc. I confess a spent a better part of later episodes forwarding the WXB-7wives on island scenes which was a waste of time. Everytime I feel like giving up on this series, it is the story of the 2 men that made me continue to watch. And whilst I may not agree that the performances were great overall, I could agree that for the better part the casting is good despite some odd ones here and there.


Performances rated, evaluated and commented
The Two Leading Characters


Huang Xiaoming
The oddest is Huang Xiaoming himself as WXB. That was odd. Seems too handsome, not scroundrel enough, not lowly enough. I always thought he would be better being the emperor. But this is right up his alley; being silly, noisy, fun loving and crasy, I must admit HXM portrayed these emotions well. His best scenes are always those where he is close to tears every time he looked at the emperor. The affection is well portrayed. But yet however crazy he is he still have a subdued performance in later episodes. Rarely any crazy antics but he still have that devious looks. Is he the best WXB? I don't know, but I have seen a better one in the form of Jordan Chan. HXM is effective but not entirely memorable. I actually thought he transported himself from Legend Of The Condor Heroes into this series because it felt the same. But once he settled down he was better. At least a different take on the character WXB. But like I have said before, he can be quite extreme in his emotions. One second extremely sad, next second extremely happy. Exremely cunning, extremely worried. There is no middle ground with this performance or his other performances. The way he shifts emotions is too fast and sometimes I got lost as to what he is portraying. It could be an editing problem though. I am not sure.


What makes his WXB different
Not much. Same storyline, almost identical with the 1998 version but he gives a different interpretation of WXB. Let's discount his acting style that is extreme emotions in 1 single scene. We all know WXB is a scroundrel, lack education and so lack refineness, a certain gentlemanliness. But HXM however rowdy, noisy and silly he tried to be or in the same scene, serious, thoughtful and having that 3 quarters look with head down but eyes looking up suspisciously (his trademark look), his WXB lacks that scroundrelness which in a way I feel is what makes his WXB different. You must see this in light with the younger boy's performance who played the young WXB as someone who likes to have fun, who wants to play all the time but is cunning enough to know when to stop. I see his WXB as cunning and smart but never reckless, never rude or even disgusting. Many may not appreciate the lack of these elements but I appreciate his re-interpretation. At some point I even taught WXB was too refined, as if all these classiness come easy for him and he lacks that born into the brothel type of un-classiness. HXM tried to compensate it with the way he walks (like some poor man with newly required wealth and power, brimming with self assureness and arrogance but still weary he might lose it in a second), the clumsiness in the way he gets on the horse, his cowardice when attacked. But these scenes are very few. His WXB is also rather too confident sometimes and the only time you see him humbled is either before the people he respect or people who are smarter than he is, such as the emperor.


Verdict
He's not a bad actor and he is not a bad WXB but somehow I still feel WXB has been better pertrayed before. That doesn't mean his is not good. If you haven't seen the others or prefer a different take, he is the actor for you.

Wallace Chung
Now this is a weird casting decision. Kidd informed me someone else was preferred but he couldn't get out of a prior engagement so he'd rather not take this role if it meant he had to divide his time between 2 projects, so Wallace Chung got the role. He is a few years older than HXM but he doesn't look like it. This man looks young and I was shocked to learn his age. I was even more shocked to learn he started in TVB and I finally recognised him as a young fresh faced up and coming actor with several others in a TV series about Wynners but whilst may assume he simply disappear from the face of this Earth like everybody else, he actually made a name for himself as a singer and actor in mainland series. So it is nice to know there is always a career and fan base beyond TVB but unfortunately for people like me who had little exposure towards series other than TVB series, it takes a big production to really notice such actors. And nothing can be bigger than this present project by a director famed for his beautiful shots. This is his time, a big opportunity and in a role that has often consistently been my favourite in all versions, even if I did not agree with the casting like the 2000 version with Patrick Tam. Patrick Tam as an emperor? Too pouty but the dramatic story and the fact that Patrick Tam is a fine actor made me overlook the bad casting decision. So a great actor can play any character that would make you overlook the weaknesses in certain area but if you just sit down and think about it you might in the end say "still... he didn't look like that character". So how was Wallace Chung? Same as how I felt with Patrick Tam. As in didn't feel he was suitable but towards the end I got used to his face and quite like his unique looks. But he is not a very good actor. Look, HXM is the handsome one. No doubt about it. Wallace Chung isn't bad looking but less handsome and yet his looks looks like someone young who can be someone very cunning. Not cunning like HXM that makes you wonder where his loyalty lies but cunning as in smart, learned, educated. Whoever dubbed his voice did a fantastic job because the voice shows increasing maturity as the series went on and on, it suits his face and is quite authoritative. I feel one of his best scene, in fact his best scene was the one where he just visited his father at the temple and he was sitting on the marble floor with HXM sitting next to him. He took out 3 handkerchiefs and as he slowly explained to HXM as WXB why he wasn't intimidated or worried about those 3 lords of 3 different areas until WXB showed him the 4th handkerchief, Wu Sangui that is the real threat to his empire, I can't help but notice the way he flicked away the first 3 handkerchiefs like they didn't matter to him. It was the way he did it with a single stroke that showed his emperor was gaining confidence, experience and authority. Somehow that scene showed the humility of WXB who was the servant and the authoritativeness of the emperor who was the master. I love that scene and if you see it, slow mo it and just check out the way his hands was moving. But in more dramatic scenes, like angry, etc, he falters. Like I said he is not a very good actor like Patrick Tam with an ability to show a wide range of emotions or change emotions as fast as HXM which to me can be distracting. But I felt he was functional and over 40 episodes or so you tend to appreciate some finer points about his performance, certain elements that made him better than most other scenes. That handkerchief scene is one. Another is the way his interaction with HXM in the scene where WXB was tricked into revealing his identity as the deputy of HES. Notice the way he looked, cunning old fox type of look but the hurt that registered after seemed a bit odd, like as if the director pieced two scenes together, there wasn't any continuity and changed much too fast.


What makes his Emperor different
Not much actually at first. When he started he was inexperience and even thought WXB as someone so generous and giving when it comes to money (he didn't know WXB took 50% of all stakes). But as you watched further, you see the slight differences. His emperor is also inconsistent. Best friends with WXB, sometimes I felt he kicked WXB much too eagerly, punched him much too easily, scold him too frequently. It felt at all times like he is the emperor who is sometimes the best friend of WXB and not the best friend of WXB who so happens to be the emperor. This was seen even in the 1st scene when they takeover from the kids and you're always reminded he is the emperor, WXB the servant. Such a reminder should only exist towards the end when WXB realised that but in a way to have that kind of reminder so earlier on without WXB ever really acknowledging that to himself (but he did remind himself his Xiao Xuanzhi is an emperor capable of chopping off his head) is poignant; that shows we the audience could immediately see the gap in their relationship when they couldn't or wouldn't. Amongst all the emperors I have seen, I like the characterisation of this emperor the best in certain scenes. He is knowledgeable, educated and smart. He is also generous, fair and just. And he can also be ruthless, serious and mean sometimes. He can even outsmart WXB or see somethings that WXB simply couldn't. I like the fact that WXB is cunning but as cunning as he was, he may not be able to see certain political moves that the emperor could spot in an instance. They compliment each other but they're yet unequal in status even if they tried to have forced equality. Wallace Chung does very well in scenes that require those kingliness quality, such as sitting and reading like an educated scholar. A sly smile, or a knowing smile giving him a quality of a learned ruler. Those small quiet moments that requires talk and not much action. Some actors couldn't do that, but he could and I really enjoyed his performances in those scenes. However he falters in dramatic big moments, expression can be quite limited because I felt he should have shown betrayal or slyness but what I got back was hurt or excitement. Overall, his emperor could have been better with better editing. I don't like the confusion with the Princess' paternity scenes caused by bad editing, making his performance look bad when those later scenes were probably filmed earlier than the earlier scenes. It makes him look like a scene per scene actor. Maybe he is.


Verdict
He's not a bad actor and he is not a bad emperor at most times but I feel this emperor's character has been better written in other versions, but whether better portrayed or not is up to you. For example, Patrick Tam's one was overly dramatic, Steven Ma was a young actor so he did well in the inexperience scenes but later scenes he faltered and as for this one, since all the inexperienceness were shown when the emperor was a child, Wallace Chung had the difficult task to portray the emperor as young but cunning as well earlier on. Overall, I felt he gave an adequate performance for a character that is well written but it could have been a power house performance if he has been an actor befitting the character.


Wang Cheng Yang
He plays the younger Wei Xiaobao and whilst his acting is raw and consists mostly of overexcitement or extreme fear, this young actor does really look like Huang Xiaoming, right down to the cheeky smile and darker skin tone. He is a handsome boy, about 10 I think at the time of filming, and what excites me the most is he seems real. I mean most child actors these days, especially Hollywood are like robots; too perfect, too unreal so to see this young man stumble a bit, acting like a child would in certain circumstances is a joy to watch. That being said, I was very shocked at the scenes where he killed and laughed about it, but those were earlier scenes which mean probably filmed earlier. You can see his inexperience, you can see he is a new young actor but with talent. However much I disliked the whole idea of transporting what a teenager or adult WXB would do to a child, I thought it worked, considering this WXB's personality. This boy can charm you and though I love his scenes with the emperor played by Shi Lei because there he is like a child, playful, fun and very cute, I thought his best scenes were with the actor who plays Hai Dafu because those are more sinister scenes that requires him to portray a kid with a cunning mind. I feel in that respect he was successful. However his earlier scenes were terrible. He spoke too loud, almost shouting his lines and here I am making the assumption that he delivers his own line and he dubs over his own line because the voice sounds like his. Anyway too loud, too big gestures, too over the top and one of the worst scene right next to the rape scene would be this young boy rushing into his mother's room whilst she was sadistically tortured by her customer, he pushed him out of the bed and dramatically and emotionally cried "MOM!!!!" several times whilst hugging his naked mother. That scene is screaming for pity, sympathy, pity the young poor boy and her poor prostitute mom - but I didn't buy it. I hated that scene because that was like flung into my face and expect me to stomach such a terribly written scene. So I disliked the boy thinking he is and will be overacting most of the time. But as the story progresses, I felt he is one half of why this series for the 1st 10 episodes were fresh and worked big time. When he became HXM I fell like the world fell flat because for the next 40 episodes or so it will be HXM and no longer this boy who is capable of filming the rest of the 40 episodes with some alteration to the story. Seriously, it can work. And it would have been great if more episodes were allocated for the Aobai segment because that shows the co-operation between these two characters that laid the basis of a great friendship.


Best Scene
Plenty but lookout for his interaction with Hai Dafu. The way that creepy blind old eunuch cradled him like a baby may look innocent but is actually quite sinister and all at the same time this boy who knows Hai Dafu is blind would make punching or strangling gestures at the old man, which is more sinister than naughty. But I love those scenes, and they were funny too.


Shi Lei
Now that I read his filmography, I realised he was that handsome fair boy who played the younger bratty Nic Tse character in The Promise. The moment he appeared on screen, I liked him. By the end of the 10 episodes featuring these 2 boys, I loved him and crying at the prospect I shall see them, especially this boy no more. He really does have that upper class royalty scholarly look and again I suspect his real voice is used in the dubbing process because it sounds like him. He spoke with authority even whenhe feared Aobai, his eyes sparkle with intelligence as Wang Cheng Yang's eyes sparkle with cheeky charm. These two boys are well cast and well matched and for me, of all the emperors I have seen, at least the scenes featuring a young inexperience emperor, Shi Lei's interpretation is the best. And I believe if he had been given the task of portraying the emperor the entire 50 episodes I have no doubt he can handle it. Why I love him so? Probably because for once the beginning scenes of friends bonding didn't seem out of place. Quite frankly I never questioned that aspect in all other versions, I just accept it. But when this series started them as children, it just made sense. Children bond faster and more sincerely than teenagers or adults. I was often moved by later scenes of these two adult versions fighting because I remembered the scenes of these two kids together. Of course there are sentimental scenes that are played out too long but again I love all their scenes together. You must check out Shi Lei's first appearance in this series, where young WXB walked out to offer to play with the young emperor not knowing he was the emperor and Shi Lei looked straight ahead with such curiosity, wonder and joy in all that 2 seconds before saying ok to WXB's invitation, that scene was wonderful. His face just sparkles with nobility and may I repeat again, intelligence even if in some scenes he did look like a very pretty boy. I felt he handled very well the scenes with Aobai, that is adult and also scenes about politics. His expression may not be as expressive with Wang Cheng Yang but you can tell he is the better actor of the 2 and probably more experienced. His every gesture, every facial expression, the way he stood, walked, talked and smiled made me convinced he is the best young Kangxi in a DOMD adaptation. What a great casting decision.

Best Scene
Without a doubt a scene that left me shaking emotionally as well, that is the scene WXB realised the emperor is the emperor. I wrote extensively about this scene in my episodic thoughts and to save my breath, I repeat the scene below:-


Anyway, one day WXB was waiting for the boy emperor when a young eunuch came and said the boy emperor would be late. The fact was he was busy attending to state matters in the hall, under pressure by the much older officials to make some heavy duty decisions. Cut to WXB, he playfully explored the palace when he stumbled into the main hall where the politics were going in. He stumbled in, one old minister saw him and thought he was an intruder-assassin and shouted to protect the emperor. Realistically shown, the emperor was immediately swamped by eunuchs and guards, by the dozens as the other guards ran after a very frightened WXB whose for once cheekiness and cunning mind couldn't escape from his own mistake. As he was carried off, he saw the boy emperor as the emperor, and he screamed for help whilst the boy emperor fearful of what happened rushed forward and tried to stop what was happening but he was surrounded by guards and you get the feeling at this point that though he is the emperor, he had little choice in many things. When he managed to shout the guards to move away, he defiantly stood on top of the stairs, at the throne and wiped away his tears.


WXB was locked in a scary looking torture room when he was released by the orders of the emperor. It was not shown but I have a feeling the boy emperor had to go against a few elders, such as Aobai to get him released.


The next scene is my favourite of the 3 episodes and which showed that if he had been this attentive, the director would have given more punch to the story. It was WXB kneeling with his head on the floor, begging for the emperor's forgiveness for not knowing he was the emperor, really scared and begged that his life be spared. The boy emperor stood on top of the throne (high up mind you in a really big dark hall) and as WXB begged and begged and was scared to look at the boy emperor, the boy emperor tearfully said;


"So now I am no longer Xiao Xuan Tzi? I am now the emperor? I don't want to be the emperor. You be the emperor. Why must I now be the emperor to you when I am Xiao Xuan Tzi? Stop calling me the emperor! I am Xiao Xuan Tzi! Stop it! Stop it! I don't want to wear this stupid robe! I hate this robe!" and he threw his hat, his belt and was disrobing himself and threw them all at WXB who was still muttering in fear "I am so sorry your majesty, I did now know you were the emperor, I thought stupidly the emperor was old" and after a while as the emperor cryingly shouted "Why am I now not Xiao Xuan Tzi anymore? Call me Xiao Xuan Tzi! I am not the emperor!!" and suddenly WXB looked up and shouted "Stop it Xiao Xuan Tzi!" and the boy emperor stopped and WXB smiled cheekily "You will always be Xiao Xuan Tzi to me" and then he rushed up to the boy emperor and all was well again. And so the boy emperor can now let WXB into his daily routine, no longer does he need to hide his true identity and WXB felt privileged and the emperor felt free.


I consider this the best scene in the entire series and the best scene in all DOMD adaptation. The emotions were raw, the acting flawless and the dialogue real. The way Shi Lei threw the clothes on the floor, the way Wang Cheng Yang was shaking with fear, made this scene an instant classic in my opinion and as I have said in my episodic thoughts, if the director had been this consistent, this series would have been the best DOMD adaptation but of course when a series is made so long, excellence can't be maintained and frankly generally this series couldn't live up to this scene after. Other notable scenes would be the confrontation between Aobai and the emperor and how WXB and emperor captured Aobai. I also love the simpler scenes where these two boys played all over the palace and as they threw mud or wrestled each other to the ground, without WXB knowing, the emperor was wildly gesturing the eunuchs to go away. Again to credit the director to his attention to details, one of the scene you would see workers renovating the palace!! All I can say is the director paid a lot of attention to the 1st 10 episodes but faltered thereafter.


Other performances
The Wives
7 wives and of all 7 wives, the worst casting decision was Cherie Ying as Ah Ke. So she is pretty but her eyes made me want to slap her. There is no elegance or gentleness in her, nothing ladylike and nothing of that wow factor that would convince me she is the reason for WXB's lust/love at first sight. Notably, 2000 version had a prettier Ah Ke, Athena Chu who however isn't that much of an actress since now that I remember restrospectively, she sulked too much. Nothing to say about Kiki Sheung in the original version. For me the best was 1998 version with Noel Leong who may not be the prettiest but she is the gentlest and is classy enough to convince me that she is no. 1 Chinese beauty Chan Yuen Yuen's offspring and that she is capable of making WXB crazy in love despite her rebuffing him again and again and again. And of all the 7 wives, the prettiest in my opinion is the oldest wife, the former wife of the leader of GADS whose name escapes me. I can't even remember her character's name. Of all 7 wives, the one with the most scene had to be the actress who played Fang Yi and Mu Jianping since they appeared the earliest and for me the cutest had to be the actress who played Shuang Er who coincidentally is one of the worst actress amongst the 7 wives. In fact I find most of the wives lacking personality or any real beauty except they're pretty but not knock out pretty. Their acting are pretty average, some fairing better. Of all the 7 wives, character wise I like the most is at first Shuang Er untl somehow she became a no-personality biggest fan of WXB which is boring. I like the Shuang Er in 1998 version better. The actress who portrays the wife with the least personality is the one who played Mu Jianping who simply disappeared into the background later in the series. The one who could have been written better would be the character Fang Yi whom I felt versions 1998 and 2000 gave better characterisation towards this character that betrays WXB the most. The wife with the least exposure but somehow the actress gave her a bit more personality by way of a scene where she scolded WXB was the wife whose name I can't remember. The one whom he gave the dices to? But again, all these women seems to fall for him too easily, except for Ah Ke who seems resigned to her fate when she got pregnant and later learned to love WXB because frankly between him and that jerk Zheng Keshuang, WXB was a better man and that speaks volume. My favourite actress of all the 7 actresses is Shu Chang who plays the princess. She is also the least prettiest, as per teh tradition of the actresses who portray the princess except for the 2000 version who was portrayed by Ruby Lin. Shu Chang played the princess to the hilt; sadistic, masochistic and everything scary, sometimes it is quite embarassing to watch the scenes where she tortured the poor WXB who ended up bedding her, scenes which were not shown in the version I had. Anyway, Su Chang may not look pretty outside the screen, but in the series, she looks like a princess and her dressing is fantastic even if a bit fantasy like. She is probably the best actress amongst the 7 wives other than the one who portrayed the oldest wife and I like watching her interaction with HXM where they shared more how shall I say, intimate scenes. Of all the versions I have seen, this princess is the worst of all versions in the sense the most brutal and for that I felt she would perhaps be the best princess in a DOMD adaptation. However I can't proclaim her as such since Rain Lau in the 1998 version was also hilarious and she injected one aspect that Su Chang may have done the same but was probably edited out; that is sex crazed princess. I always thought of all 7 wives, WXB slept with the princess 1st because she jumped on him. She was as eager as he was, maybe more eager. That aspect is not shown in this version, surprisingly since they pushed the boundaries with the torture scenes so why not just show her jumping on him? So for me Rain Lau was the best in terms of performances but Su Chang is a close 2nd. The rest of the wives are ultimately forgettable.

HES Members
I can't comment much about the actors who portray HES members since they're mostly consistent with all other versions and also I find them well cast and well acted. But one character that I felt was perfectly cast and very well written was the character of Chen Jinnan played by Zhu Yanping. I don't know this actor but I can tell you, his first scene was weird. Like WXB I anticipated the 1st scene of the Han hero as someone doing some slow mo kung fu whilst leaves blowing into his face but instead there was this heroic man, regarded as such a hero that you're not considered having walked in this world if you haven't met him once, chopping wood. Stark reality; HES are poor, very poor and I feel this series successfully shows that aspect. Anyway not sure if his real voice is used but if it was dubbed I can say the one who dubbed him was excellent. Deep voice that just screams HERO HERO HERO!!! The actor played his part excellently, showing charisma and that good guy vibe that no way you can mistake him as the bad guy. He has chemistry with HXM and I like the father/son moments between them and the saddest scene had to be his death scene. That being said somehow you will feel Chen Jinnan is so heroic he can be such a fool. Sometimes being too heroic means you don't bend and when you don't bend you're susceptible to backstabbing and more. He is the direct opposite of WXB and I felt the actor portrayed all these qualitied perfectly and he is I consider the best Chen Jinnan in a DOMD adaptation.

The villains
Of all the villains in this series, the casting that impressed me the most was Zhong Liang as Wu Yingxiong. Never seen him before but I was impressed. I felt the second liners were all very well cast and Zhong Liang was one of the best. I just love his performance as the outwardly coward and compliant Wu Yingxiong but is every bit as scheming as his father Wu Sangui. He is what WXB called the young turtle. Anyway, a pity his role was not expanded or better written. This Wu Yingxiong is a drug addict and Zhong Liang portrayed that very well. And yet somehow I had this feeling this Wu Yingxiong is not as simple as he look. And unfortunately the director did not capitalise on this and just let this character rot in between bad writing and terrible storytelling when it comes to the Wu's story. This is a classic case where the actor is better than the character they're asked to play. Oh the potential, all wasted.

Likewise I was so excited with the prospect of seeing Wu Sangui. The actor portrayed him well, scheming, tough looking so he was well cast but again Wu Sangui's story was simplified into Chan Yuen Yuen-Ah Ke-Wu Sangui story. If I remember correctly 2000 version gave Wu Sangui a more human aspect with his touching story of his love for his son. But that was so long ago my memory may be failing me. Here I didn't even get to see Wu Sangui being angry with the emperor chopping Wu Yingxiong's head and somewhere along the way his character simply disappear. So where's the big threat to the empire? Why all the big show of military might when that story was heading nowhere? A pity when the actor could have done much more to the character which was poorly writen. Again, OH THE POTENTIAL, ALL WASTED.

There are 2 jerks in this series, both so similar I thought maybe they're the same.

Qiao Zhen Yu play jerk of all jerks, Zheng Keshuang that Ah Ke fell for. I felt the actor really really portrayed this character so well. One second he was so heroic looking and next second cowering in the corner like a coward he was. Horrible man. But the scene that didn't make sense was him killing Chen Jinnan in front of everybody. Considering what a coward he was, he would have killed Chen Jinnan when they're alone far far away from everybody else. Anyway excellent performance.

Liu Yi Zhou is portrayed by Tae, I believe a Thai actor? Anyway again a jerk that Fang Yi initially loved, the only difference is he is not a jerk with power. More like a coward actually and I felt it was also a good performance.

The Others
There are so many actors in here, it would take me forever to comment about each one of them so I am going to pick and choose.

The best of all the older men performances had to be Hua Zi who to me is the best Hai Dafu in all adaptations. I was just shocked that the character died so suddenly since I expected this Hai Dafu to go crazy and all that. He didn't. He just died. The end and it was terrible because I felt his Hai Dafu was weird, sinister, creepy and very funny. Maybe not very funny but he did looked amused with Wang Cheng Yang's antics as young WXB. You have to watch his performance to know why I declare him as such. And I also like the fact that the director did not over-sentimentalise or even sentimentalise his relationship with WXB. Look at it this way; they hated each other and they used each other and when Hai Dafu died, WXB did not shed a tear, more so screaming and callig him FATHER! FATHER! like in 2000 version. Oh that was the worst scene in that adaptation.

Gao Yuan was very good both as the fake and the real empress dowager. As the Fake one, she was both authoritative and desperate to please so it was funny to watch how she would later bend backwards for WXB when he revealed his GADS identity to him even when she hated him. As the real empress dowager, she was gentle, soft spoken and yet like WXB observed, every bit as hypocritical as the fake one. I thought this actress was very pretty and regal and I felt she gave a strong performance amongst the many weak performances by the female counterpart.

Tsui Kam Kong who was also Aobai in a much expanded role in 2000 version also plays Aobai in here, although in a more down to earth look with a more down to earth Kung Fu choreography and a very unexciting end. His entrance was good though. It has all the promise of a great character, arrogant, egoistical and definitely very rude, his scene with the young Shi Lei and Wang Cheng Yang was fantastic but unfortunately his Aobai is more like to show up, threaten, gat caught, imprisoned and killed. Not very dramatic and seems like summarised version of all other versions. Badly written although Tsui Kam Kong was stern looking and did fit the role of Aobai in here.

He Jiayi plays the vengeful nun, Jiunan who was also Princess Cheung Ping. Although she looks pretty and may I say if it was true, daring also to shave her head bald (and she looks very nice), unfortunately her performance left much to be desired. I always pictured Jiunan as not just sulky, but she was very cold, very bitter and very angry which explains why as a nun, she did what she shouldn't do; she kidnapped Ah Ke, raised her for the sole purpose of having her kill her own father. So she never loved nor liked Ah Ke which explains why she was always cold to Ah Ke and responded a bit more warmly to WXB. This Jiunan though didn't fit the bill. She is just sulky. When she found out Ah Ke was not the daughter or Wu Sangui, she simply looked apologetic and then disappeared from the face of this earth. There was no anger, bitterness, etc. Version 1998 had Lily Lee if I remember correctly and she was really sulky. But version 2000 had the best written Jiunan although I remember the actress was badly cast with her lipgloss and all. Too glamarous. Anyway version 2000 had a proper end with Jiunan having to accept the Ming was dead and Kangxi was a good emperor, killing him would cause chaos and so she had to let go of her bitterness which she did by flying away and that was the last we see of her. This present version was ridiculously written. Again like Aobai, just appear and then just disappear. What a pity. I mean DOMD isn't just about WXB, the emperor and WXB's 7 wives. Other characters matter as much too as they affect WXB and his place in the world, etc and to just have this touch and go method when this director is given 50 episodes to tell the story, he certainly didn't tell the story properly, fully or even coherently as the series went past 10 episodes.

The worst casting decision has to be Nin Jing as Chen Yuanyuan. Chen Yuanyuan is so gobsmackingly beautiful even WXB felt weak on his knees when he first saw her, and all men would follow her to her death. To have Wu Sangui betray his country just to get this woman shows how mega awesomely beautiful this woman is. Unfortunately all I can see with Nin Jing is big doe eyes. As in really big doe eyes, like she open her eyes wide, speak softly and would have us all believe this woman was capable of ruining practically 2 empires, one shorter than the other of course and have men follow her till the end of this earth. I suppose it is apt since Ah Ke is supposed to looke like her younger self and since Cherrie isn't of that calibre when it comes to beauty, so the mom has to be lesser. What a bad casting decision. And her performance was irritating. Just because a woman is gentle and is like going to be blown away by the tiniest wind doesn't make her a lady gentle beautiful gobsmackingly gorgeous divine being. And worst of all, her character was so badly written. Appear and then disapppear. What happened to her in the end? Who knows? For a mother who was so saddened by her daughter's disappearance and to have finally found the daughter again and then to just disappear from the screen was ridiculous. If I remember correctly, all previous versions Chen Yuanyuan died right? If not, please kill this one. At least there is a proper beginning and a proper end.

Ma Ling who plays WXB's mom is cute looking and gave a competent performance for a character that appeared briefly. Her reaction to seeing her grown up son was very inadequate though. This is the moment for oversentimetalism and yet it wasn't done that way. I find her character weird. I find the mothers in this series weird. But she was ok.

Generally the men fared better than the women and for all intents and purposes, the smaller roles are well cast and well acted and as for the lead roles, the 2 adult leads performed well with chemistry and well suited, so much so like I said this could have been the greatest love story never told. But the stars of this series has to be the 2 young boys who performed well beyond their years and when their scenes ended, the series seem like ended to me until the adult counterparts became more interesting as their relationship became more strained.

Verdict
The first 10 episodes will forever have my affection and I shall remember them fondly and shall dare to proclaim them as the best DOMD adaptation for the earlier chapters but the rest of the series were either badly written, badly edited, badly acted, badly cast or simply just badly paced. The entire series then became uneven and what could have been great as promised in the first few episodes descended into nothing more than a touch and go adaptation. If only I could splice certain versions together with this one it could have been just great but reality is of all the versions I have seen, version 2000 could perhaps be said as the worst for the liberal approach towards changing the many important bits of the story and yet version 2000 can be said to have the best closure scene between the 2 leads, even it the process was dramatic and sometimes overly melodramatic. This version is not bad but certain aspects could have been better. What I love above all else is the scenery; the big colourful palace, the many eunuchs, palace maids in a single scene that from now on until TVB dared to put in such budget, I shall compare all future series about Emperors and palace with this one and I dare say none will match the scale and beauty of this one. And even that, later scenes were mostly confined to the study room or embarassing use of computer graphics but at least the effort is appreciated. Whatever my grouses with the story, performances and casting for this version, I appreciate the rand gesture of it and I shall never watch DOMD adaptation the same as before ever again. That being said, version 1998 remains my firm favourite simply because a good story well told, however small a budget may be is still a good story well told. In that sense for Royal Tramp, the director seems more keen on looking good and presenting the goods so it is a pity of all those could have been and yet never was.

Highly recommended but not because it is great storytelling but mainly because it looks great, sometimes is great and most of the time is good. Watch it for the 2 boys and the sets, the costumes and the cinematography and believe me, you will never look at the story of Duke Of Mount Deer the same ever egain.

What Ifs
What is Huang Xiaoming plays the emperor instead of Wei Xiaobao? What would it be like? Huang Xiaoming may be noisy at times and definitely changes emotions so fast you can hardly keep up and that is both good and bad, but his best scenes are always those quiet scenes where he weeps or when he is thinking and since Kangxi is a thinking man who keeps to himself, I feel HXM would be an excellent Kangxi. A pity he was cast as WXB which is like boringly predictable. Rumour has it this same director wants to remake Journey To The West and he may wish to cast HXM as the Monkey King. I hope not because he would be a miscast. I hope to see him as the monk. He's handsome and I feel he can play quiet dignity quite well.

What if Cherrie Ying is not Ah Ke? Who should be Ah Ke? Now this is difficult. Who can fit the bill in China? Just a suggestion but everytime I remembered Liu Yifei's entrance in her first scene in Legend Of The Condor Heroes, I was enthralled and mesmerized. She may not be drop dead gorgeous but this girl has the aloofness, the classy elegance and plus, she can act though I am sure she is a better actress now than she was then where she was mostly stiff.

But who then should be Chen Yuanyuan? So if Huang Xiaoming is the emperor, who then should be Wei Xiaobao? Someone from China. I don't know.

Any suggestion?

Favourite Scene
Remember my favourite scene in this series? A youtube video below for your viewing pleasure.

Episode 3 Part 4 & 5 respectively









3 comments:

  1. Great review. :)

    Very thorough.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous2.10.08

    liu yifei was originally offered a role in the series. not sure as which character though. i would assume as ah ker. however, she had to turn it down for some other project. can't remember which ones. there are a couple of you tube videos of the interview where she explains the reasons for turning it down and everything.

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